There’s no time of the year quite like the summer. The weather is sunny and for many, it's the time to go for a holiday. But that can be problematic. For those left behind in the office, the atmosphere can be sapped from a usually bustling workplace. Worse still, things can suffer from a productivity and efficiency standpoint. And it all stems from the fact that many companies don't know how to manage seasonal variations like this.
Despite the groundswell of support for flexible workspaces recently, the majority of businesses still work in conventional offices, especially outside of London. These offices are usually built around the total number of workers on the company's books. But the numbers don't always add up at this time of year when there are more desks than people. Similarly, flexible workspaces can suffer too. Even with the shorter contracts and flexibility, many companies still have more space than they need in the summer.
According to one study from Moorepay, 10% of workers will be on leave at any given time during the summer. That might not seem like a huge issue but bearing mind the fact that offices are still paying to power rooms, desks and zones, it can be a waste of resources. Add in the fact that workers are usually less productive in the summer months, and this time of year can be painful for managers.
Looking to the future, this won't be just a problem to consider during the warmer months. We're seeing an increase in the number of people who are working as freelancers or contractors. In fact, according to PeoplePerHour, freelancers will make up half of the US and UK workforce by 2020. The companies employing these workers on a short-term basis usually place their focus on the task at hand. Managing the workspaces they operate in is secondary and so oversupply could still be an issue in quieter periods.
It's time, therefore, for the office to reflect the marketplace it is operating in. Employee count will fluctuate but profitability should remain constant.
Crunching the numbers
Central to addressing this issue will be data analytics. Some companies are already monitoring how workers use their office space. But without the cold hard facts, the intelligence they end up with is little more than guesswork. A fuller approach to analytics enables office managers to make more informed decisions about how they use their office.
For instance, insight from the IT infrastructure can be used to see when desks are occupied. This can serve two purposes. It can save energy by powering down compute devices and lighting when a person steps away from their desks. It can also be useful in assessing how flexible workspace is being used and how space can be optimised in the future.
Smartphones and your Wi-Fi network are probably the best tool in your arsenal for understanding office occupation and movement in a larger space or across multiple offices. Professionals are rarely without their smartphones and how and where they connect to different networks can be used to map traffic and occupancy. When you combine that sort of intelligence with data from LAN ports to see if a user is actively using a computer, you start to get an overview of the office and of how various assets are being used. And because this intelligence gathering uses the existing IT infrastructure, it doesn’t need additional equipment to gain better visibility of the office.
Those who take the most advantage of the information they are able to gather in this way are the ones who take action based on what they discover. For example, if certain areas aren’t being used in quieter times, could that space have another function on a temporary basis? Perhaps it could become a collaboration space or an additional meeting room to relieve the pressure on existing facilities. It could even be hired out to other businesses in a way that could generate additional revenue. If you use the data to make your office design more flexible, switching between different functions in the office will be easier to do – whether you want to quickly create a breakout area, a meeting room or even a social area.
Understanding the future
But at a time when workforce and the work itself is changing, will we need an office at all? Surely the best way to protect against oversupply of office space during quiet times would be to take away the office altogether and allow everyone to work remotely, right? The future will look different but one constant will be the need for employees to interact with each other fact to face. Remote working will play an important role in the flexible working model but there will always be a need for some sort of physical base from where workers can collaborate.
Co-working spaces will play in increasing role. They allow workers to take advantage of non-traditional working styles and can be used to scale up space when needed. One benefit here is that cloud computing has improved recently as well, giving the ability to scale computing resources up and down when needed. And with self-service platforms, it’s easy to provision the services you need without spending hours on the phone to IT support.
Although seasonal fluctuations can force businesses to operate in an atypical fashion, they do present opportunities to reassess their working patterns. And with much wider changes taking place in work practices, it is a useful exercise for all to undertake.